What does “Net Zero” mean?
Many corporations and government leaders recognize that to avoid worsening climate impacts, global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions will need to drop 50% by 2030 and reach net-zero by 2050.1 Achieving net zero emissions occurs when human-caused GHG emissions are balanced out by removing GHGs from the atmosphere, using a carbon removal process.1 Countries like Austria, Costa Rica, Denmark, the European Union, New Zealand, and many more have already adopted net zero targets (as of June 2020).1
Why is it important?
It is critical that the structural and economic transition necessary to limit warming to 1.5 degrees C is approached in a just manner. Most of the necessary technologies are available and cost-competitive with high-carbon alternatives. Solar and wind now provide the cheapest power available for 67% of the world.1
In many sectors of the economy, technologies exist that can bring emissions to zero. In electricity, it can be done using renewable and nuclear generation. A transport system that runs on electricity or hydrogen, well-insulated homes and industrial processes based on electricity rather than gas can all help to bring sectoral emissions to absolute zero.2
However, in industries such as aviation the technological options are limited; in agriculture too, it is highly unlikely that emissions will be brought to zero. Therefore some emissions from these sectors will likely remain; and in order to offset these, an equivalent amount of CO2 will need to be taken out of the atmosphere – negative emissions. Thus the target becomes ‘net zero’ for the economy as a whole. The term ‘carbon neutrality’ is also used.2
How can we achieve Net Zero?
The only greenhouse gas that can easily be absorbed from the atmosphere is carbon dioxide. There are two basic approaches to extracting it: by stimulating nature to absorb more, and by building technology that does the job.2
Plants absorb CO2 as they grow, through photosynthesis. Therefore, having more plants growing or growing faster will remove more from the atmosphere. Therefore, the easiest and most effective approach for negative emissions are afforestation (planting more trees) and reforestation (replacing forest that has been lost or thinned).
For companies, however, a few principles should guide them to achieving net zero. Companies can create and implement an emissions-reduction plan that achieves substantial and sustained greenhouse gas (GHG) decreases to reach net-zero. Now is the time to seize opportunities to reduce emissions across supply chains.3
For example, High-end outdoor gear company Arc’teryx is one example of a Canadian company that recently pledged to go net-zero by 2050. It has publicly committed to reduce emissions associated with its headquarters, Canadian production facility, and retail stores by 65% by 2030 (compared to 2018), which includes curbing the footprint of its fabrics, products, factories, mills, shipping and distribution centres.3
1Levin, K., Fransen, T., Schumer, C., & Davis, C. (September 17, 2019). What Does “Net-Zero Emissions” Mean? 8 Common Questions, Answered. Retrieved from World Resources Institute: https://www.wri.org/insights/net-zero-ghg-emissions-questions-answered
2Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit. (September 17, 2018). Net zero: why? Retrieved from: https://eciu.net/analysis/briefings/net-zero/net-zero-why
3Turcotte, Isabelle. (July 2, 2020). How companies can get net-zero right. Retrieved from Pembina Institute: https://www.pembina.org/op-ed/how-companies-can-get-net-zero-right